Researchers Receive Grant to Study Cell-Cell Interaction in Pancreatic Cancer

August 14, 2019

PHILADELPHIA (August 14, 2019) – Two researchers at the Fox Chase Cancer Center have received a grant to study the cell-cell communication between pancreatic cancer cells and fibroblastic stromal calls. The recipients of the National Cancer Institute grant are Igor Astsaturov, MD, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Hematology/Oncology, and Edna Cukierman, PhD, an associate professor with the Cancer Biology Research Department.

The National Institutes of Health R21 grant supports exploratory and developmental research that will potentially result in novel applications and developments impacting clinical research. The researchers hope that the funding, $432,410 over two years, will help lead to a new focus for investigations in the field of pancreatic cancer.

Astsaturov and Cukierman are hoping to describe the structural and functional nature of cell-cell contact, or oncogenic synapses, associated with cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and pancreatic cells. Their research seeks to define the molecular structure by discerning the proteins required for this connection. They will attempt to determine the significance of this cell-cell interaction in allowing pancreatic cells to bypass the normal metabolic restrictions of their environment to proliferate. The two believe this may be the key to understanding the communication that endorses malignant progression of pancreatic cancer cells.

Astsaturov works as both a clinician and research scientist who focuses on gastrointestinal malignancies, with an emphasis on pancreatic cancers. He said he enjoys being at Fox Chase because he can spend time with his patients while also working to develop better molecular-based therapies in the lab.

Cukierman is co-director of the Marvin & Concetta Greenberg Pancreatic Cancer Institute and the Immune Monitoring Facility. She is an expert in fibroblastic cells during wound healing, a CAF in cancer and discovered the oncogenic synapse in question. Due to her tumor microenvironment interests, she is also a member of several translational research disease groups at Fox Chase. Both researchers will bring their prior understandings of fibroblastic stromal cells and pancreatic cancer to this study.


The Hospital of Fox Chase Cancer Center and its affiliates (collectively “Fox Chase Cancer Center”), a member of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence five consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.
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